When students graduate from Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, they may depart the proverbial nest but they certainly don’t leave our community. John Madias, who recently earned his Master’s in Computer Science, is one whose future we are particularly excited to follow.
We asked John a few questions about his experience at Pace, his career so far, and what he plans for his future.
What program did you study at Pace and why did you pick that one?
The MS in Computer Science. I have been working at CM&F Group for the last four years, currently as the Director of Internal Systems/Development Specialist, and decided early on that I wanted to advance my skills and abilities in my current position. I currently work on the Operations Team for CM&F Group, an insurance company mainly offering malpractice insurance. Prior to these experiences, I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and worked as the Director of Marketing at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Through my professional and educational journey to expand my knowledge in the field of marketing, I discovered the importance of basic coding knowledge and began to code on my own. I quickly found myself enjoying that very much and the rest is history.
Did anything surprise you during your degree?
I really enjoyed learning about mobile app development. I was a little hesitant at first, given the stresses and complexities that come with mobile development work, but learning the very basics to the more advanced concepts became a really enjoyable experience. It’s a very fulfilling feeling to develop a mobile app to fruition, from the beginning stages of a project – literally drawing a sketch of your app with a pen and paper – to running the final user-friendly product.
What are you most proud of in all of the things you have done over the last few years?
In the last few years, I am most proud of being able to manage all of my responsibilities successfully. Since the Fall 2017 semester when I started my Master’s degree, I have worked a full-time job, kept a healthy, daily workout routine and even started as a student at Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu in early 2019. I knew being able to keep a healthy work-school-life balance would be a challenge, but I am proud to say I was able to achieve all of my goals whole-heartedly.
Balance is important. Kudos for achieving that. Any other standout moments?
Algorithms and Computing Theory was not an easy class, but it sure was entertaining. Despite having to grasp the complex theories and essential algorithms, Professor Thomas M. Schmidt made this class fun and interesting with his unique style of teaching. He referred to the class as the “Kingdom of Algorithmia” and, from time to time, would come to class dressed as a King. Certainly something I will never forget.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to future students?
One piece of advice I would give to future students is that if you really want something, you will find the time to do the work and get it done. There is no room for excuses. Just put the work in.
Finally, and importantly, what’s next for John Madias?
Hmm, what’s next? CM&F Group has become more than a job and like an extended family to me. I will continue to work there applying my new skills and abilities to better the firm’s business and make the process of applying for insurance better for our clients. I also have a lovely girlfriend of four years and am excited to see what the future holds for us.
Through his dedication, motivation, and discipline, John has demonstrated traits that we like to refer to as “the quintessential Seidenberg student” – someone who puts in the work, faces challenges head on, is scrappy and always ready to take advantage of the next opportunity.
Congratulations on making it through your master’s program, John! It’s a significant achievement and we are excited to hear about where it takes you.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital stands tall and proud next to the Pace University New York City campus. The building is located just across from 1 Pace Plaza, offering healthcare to a vast number of patients each day who are seeking the best services that the city has to offer. It is because of NewYork-Presbyterian’s unique focus on rendering services using artificial intelligence (AI) and telemedicine technologies that the Seidenberg School is presenting the Innovation in Information Technology (IT) award to NewYork-Presbyterian at April 24th’s Seidenberg Innovation Awards.
The award is being presented to the entire IT team at NewYork-Presbyterian, a team which has driven many exciting initiatives that use pioneering technologies to provide the hospital’s patients – and its medical and administrative staff – with excellent and effective service. These initiatives have been driven in large part through the leadership of Chief Information Officer, Daniel J. Barchi.
Many of us at the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University first met Daniel when he visited campus in the fall semester of 2018. He was here to participate in the Tech Leadership Series, a run of guest speaker events that bring high-level industry workers to campus to share their stories, tips for success, and to inspire students to achieve. During that event, Daniel shared stories of hacking scares, the fascinating applications of AI in healthcare, data privacy, work ethic and leadership, and more – so when the opportunity to get to know him better in interview came up, we jumped at the chance to share more of his story.
Daniel has had a very interesting career, in which many of his experiences are what he attributes his success to. Before he became CIO of NewYork-Presbyterian, his life as a naval officer was his primary identity. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1991, he spent six years serving at sea and was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for Leadership. After deciding to leave the Navy for a new opportunity, he grew as a project manager within the telecom industry.
Daniel’s new job within the telecom industry “was full of many global challenges, and that experience of solving problems around the world led me to work for a health system and run a biomedical institute which needed to be improved.”
After running Carilion BioPhile Biomedical Institute as CEO and then President for several years, Daniel was invited to step into the role of Chief Information Officer – “and I’ve been doing healthcare IT ever since,” he says.
Once Daniel entered the world of healthcare IT, it was clear he’d found his niche.
“I think the amazing thing about healthcare IT is that people with technical and process skills can help impact patients’ lives,” Daniel says. “Without being physicians or nurses ourselves, our work is deeply critical to the outcome of patients. We develop and implement and maintain the systems that provide clinicians with the right tools they need to take care of patients, and the . . . analytics that they need to make decisions.”
While the tools that NewYork-Presbyterian IT specialists create and implement build a stronger service for patients, it’s the IT team itself that really stands out. According to Daniel, healthcare IT is “80% people, 15% process, and only 5% technology.” That means that alongside having smart and innovative individuals on staff, it’s also important to have open and attentive communication across all departments.
“The way we make this work best . . . is to listen to what the clinicians need and make sure the systems are working for them,” he states.
An example of these systems is one that is providing more accessible healthcare to all patients: kiosks. NewYork-Presbyterian has placed kiosks in Walgreens stores as part of their NYP On-Demand strategy. Patients can use these kiosks to get direct access to a physician on call. Daniel believes this is a fundamental part of NewYork-Presbyterian’s service.
“We have world-class physicians . . . but not everybody has immediate access to those physicians either from a time or geography perspective. We wanted to make sure that we could reach many more patients when and where they are via virtual medicine.”
Another example of the hospital’s drive to use technology to provide better service is its ‘mobile stroke ambulances’. If a 911 call is placed where the patient is displaying symptoms of a stroke, a radio ambulance (an ambulance that interrupts nearby car radios with information about whether the ambulance is responding to an emergency and which direction it is traveling, intended to assist drivers in moving out of the way as it passes) and one of the stroke ambulances are immediately dispatched to their location. “Right there on the side of the road, we take a CT of the patient’s head and beam the information back to a neurologist who can . . . start the treatment right there,” Daniel explains. This service speeds up the treatment process up as much as 45 minutes which can save critical brain cells. The ambulances don’t just save lives—they prevent life-threatening situations in the first place.
“Not only are we leveraging technology for the good of that one patient . . . we use telemedicine to allow one neurologist to provide care to all three, remotely,” Daniel says. NewYork-Presbyterian operates the largest fleet in the United States, including three mobile stroke ambulances.
These strategies and innovations are the reason why NewYork-Presbyterian is so notable for its patient care system.
Adopting technology into healthcare creates widespread care at a smaller cost.
“We are rapidly adopting artificial intelligence as a way to improve operations and the care of our patients. Quality is delivering outstanding care at a good value, and we’d like to reduce the cost of delivering care,” Daniel says, going on to emphasize that the introduction of AI technologies was pulled from the vision of the organization’s CEO, Dr. Steve Corwin.
“Several years ago, he encouraged us to invest in telemedicine and advanced technology as a way to continue to grow the quality of care that we deliver, but also to reach a broader population.
“NewYork-Presbyterian serves more underserved New Yorkers than just about any other health system, and we wanted to make sure that we could meet the needs of everybody, not only the patients who come to one of our hospitals.
“We started implementing artificial intelligence in the back office, rolling it out on timekeeping, [invoicing], follow-up, and other financial areas as a way to make the work that we do more efficient.”
That efficiency has grown over time.
“We’ve now started rolling it out in clinical workspaces as well: sending nudges to physicians, letting them know when patients are due for specific tests or other things that we can do to speed up a patient’s discharge, so their length of stay in the hospital is reduced,” he states.
One thing that is clear is that NewYork-Presbyterian does not implement new technology just for the sake of doing so. Every decision leads toward achieving the goal of providing faster, better, and more efficient care to as many patients as possible.
“Telemedicine—over the past three years—with the support of NYP leadership, our trustees, and philanthropy has allowed us to invest in advanced technology as a way to provide that outstanding care.”
AI and telemedicine are the present and future of healthcare and NewYork-Presbyterian is at the forefront of utilizing those resources. During Daniel’s visit to Pace University, he discussed many of these innovations with the Seidenberg student community.
Daniel Barchi’s visit to the Seidenberg School was “fantastic.”
“I’m impressed by Pace and, particularly, the programs of the Seidenberg School. The quality of the students, the focus of the faculty and curriculum, and the idea that Pace is creating a learning environment which ties directly to the needs of New York and other institutions allows us to create this pool of advanced technologists who are ready to implement everything that they’ve learned at Pace in a real-world environment immediately.”
Daniel also took some time to discuss what this honor means to him and his team.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done, and I’m proud that we’re recognized by a great institution: Pace University, here in New York, for this advancement. I think that recognition like this is good because it encourages us to do more and it also highlights for other health systems what is possible.”
We will be honoring the achievements of Daniel’s team at the Seidenberg Innovation Awards on April 24th, where the IT group at NewYork-Presbyterian will receive the Innovation in Information Technology (IT) award.
The Seidenberg Innovation Awards (SIA) recognizes the remarkable work done by individuals and organizations in our community. Proceeds from the event will directly support our students as they progress into the “advanced technologists” Daniel described. Tickets, tables, and student sponsorships are available by clicking this link.
On Thursday, October 25, the Software and Systems Engineer at AJA Video Systems, Inc., Jeff Coffin, spoke on the New York City campus for a discussion on the topic, “Embedded Linux: What the Heck is it?” Students had the opportunity to dive into what an embedded system is all about with Jeff. The talk took the form of an interview, where Jeff was posed questions by a very special Seidenberg student – Charlotte Coffin, aka his daughter!
Jeff, current AJA Software and Systems Engineer as well as former American Airlines Software and Systems Engineer, specializes in the operating system known as Linux. The operating system runs most devices that people use every day along with running most of the internet. With an industry professional who has vast knowledge of such an integrative piece of technology, it gave students an opportunity to use critical and creative thinking skills.
Students also received the opportunity to speak with Jeff about his many years of experience in the technology industry. Networking also occurred at this event located in the Seidenberg lounge.
If you missed out on this event, no worries! We have many more speakers lined up for the rest of the Leadership in Technology series.
November 14 – Peggy Yao
Goldstein Academic Center, 12:00pm
Tech Collective Lunch & Learn: Mindfulness for Professional & Personal Success
Wednesday, Nov. 14, the Westchester campus is hosting another segment of the leadership series starting at 12:00pm at the Seidenberg Lounge in Goldstein Academic Center. Special guest, Peggy Yao, will be a speaker at Seidenberg Tech Collective’s lunch and learn. Her speech will be dedicated to the topic, “Mindfulness for Professional & Personal Success,” a topic not often associated with the technology industry. Students will be able to learn tips for a more mindful outlook, network with Yao, and free lunch is, as always, provided. RSVP here to attend.
November 28—Merin Joseph
Goldstein Academic Center, 12:00pm
The Seidenberg Tech Leadership Series
The next event in the series will be on Nov. 28 at the Westchester campus at the Seidenberg Lounge at 12:00pm. Merin Joseph will be giving insider experience from her position as Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at WESTMED Practice Partners and WESTMED Medical Group. Students can attend this event to get networking experience and tips on how to succeed in their chosen fields. RSVP here to attend.
December 12 –Daniel Barchi
163 William St., 12:00pm
The Seidenberg Tech Leadership Series
The last event in the series will be on Dec. 12 on the New York City campus at the Seidenberg lounge at 12:00pm. The last series speaker, Daniel Barchi, will be giving the inside scoop on his career goals and experiences as Chief Information Officer of NewYork-Presbyterian. Students can join in on this final event to get networking experience and tips on how to succeed in their chosen fields. RSVP here to attend.
We hope to see you at these events for the Seidenberg Technology Leadership series!
A new program to introduce students to entrepreneurship is underway at Pace University. For her CIS 101 Intro to Computing class, Dyson student Maria Snelling interviewed Brandon Maier, managing partner at Quake Capital, about the importance of college in entrepreneurship and how students can make the most of school resources and opportunities to get hands-on experience for a great chance at success.
A New York University graduate, Brandon Maier first began as a Financial Controller for Bitcoin Exchange. Now, he is a managing partner at Quake Capital, specializing in recruiting companies to find beginning entrepreneurs through programs like the University Investor series, a program where Maier evaluates student pitches from ten different universities each month. This series allows students to potentially land investors like Quake Capital as well as have one-on-one work with these investors to start a business with them.
In addition, he judges several entrepreneurial competitions such as Princeton’s Tiger Launch, New York State Venture Competition, and several others at Columbia University and Carnegie Mellon.
The importance of doing research and getting practical experience cannot be stressed enough. “Most undergrads who create a company are not all Mark Zuckerberg,” Maier says. “They do not have the practical experience and work experience. A lot of them are going off the idea basis of what they think people need.”
At Pace University, a new program (similar to a high school workshop format) to introduce entrepreneurship to students is in process. Quake Capital wants to give college students the chance to experiment and find out if entrepreneurship is something they wish to pursue in the future. “Colleges teach you the right way to start a company,” Maier explains. He encourages young entrepreneurs at the college level to take risks, utilize resources at school, and build companies. “People have to do it to figure out if they love it, not just read it in a book.”
Helen Altshuler is a Seidenberg alumna (BS in Computer Science ’97) of whom we are particularly proud. Not only does she have a fascinating life story, but years of hard work have enabled her to progress to a position of thought leader today. Recent articles have described her as one of the top female “engineering leaders closing the gender gap in NYC tech” (builtinnyc.com), despite her status as a noteworthy woman in tech being quite unintentional and unexpected on Helen’s part! She’s also a member of the Seidenberg Advisory Board, so we get to enjoy her presence frequently.
As a senior engineering leader at Google, Helen is responsible for managing a multi-year transformation program in Google Cloud, and an Open Source platform called Bazel. Prior to Google, Helen was the CTO at the fintech startup PeerIQ, where she built data and engineering teams, created a cloud based analytics platform for peer to peer lending, and sold it to key institutional clients. She started her career as a software engineer at JP Morgan, after obtaining a CS degree at Pace University. She grew into technical leadership and Executive Director roles, becoming responsible for technology delivery in Credit Risk, Big Data and Analytics.
Helen is passionate about talent development and is a frequent hackathon mentor/judge, women in tech guest speaker, and Girls Who Code facilitator. She actively promotes diversity and STEM initiatives at Pace University as a member of Pace Women in Business Steering Committee.
I visited Helen at Google the day after a snowstorm in NYC. When I emailed her to check we were still on, she responded that, yes, “the city is open and so are we” – my first glimpse of a woman with extraordinary work ethic.
Not long after we sat down, Helen began to describe her life. Born in the former Soviet Union (now Ukraine), Helen didn’t experience the same societal norms concerning gender as in the USA. “Women leaders were everywhere!” she said, listing the Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, India’s first and only female prime minister Indira Gandhi, and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
She moved with her family to the United States following the collapse of the Soviet Union, where limited opportunities and discrimination caused them to come to America as refugees.
“I came here for the opportunities that weren’t available to me in my country – nothing was going to stop me from doing that,” Helen says. “I also came here as a woman, from somewhere where I wasn’t restricted by anything.”
One would expect that coming from a background of gender equality to a place where society treats the sexes with discrepancies ranging from subtle to outrageous would be quite the culture shock. However, Helen’s experience was different. Her background had escalated her to the point where her interactions with people were based on them as individual personalities. “I feel like I had blinders on; those blinders helped me. I never saw men and women at work – I saw people and colleagues who were there to work together.”
In fact, Helen never even thought of herself as a “woman in tech” until, 10 years into her tech career, she was invited to speak at a women in tech panel for the first time. Technology was just something she did, like everybody else she worked with. It was something she had always done.
“Since I was the only child, my father wanted to raise me to be as technical as I could be,” Helen explains. That said, when she first moved here she was interested in doing art but a swift reality check made her change her mind. “I walked down Broadway seeing artists selling their work for nothing and I couldn’t do that as an immigrant. I needed a make a living!”
She started the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science here at Pace University in 1993. This was around the time the world wide web was really becoming worldwide, and the internet was rolling out and developing faster than ever. What was it like being in the middle of that frenzy?
“Everything was moving so fast at that point that I didn’t have time to stop and think about it. I was an intern at Marsh & McLennan (insurance company) through Pace’s co-op program, and HTML and CGI had just become popular. My boss bought a book called HTML for Dummies and put it on my
desk and said ‘hey, we need an intranet site’ – it was a continuation from my studies at Pace. It was pretty organic; my job was all about building technology and this was a new thing to build.
“Pace had IRC chat before the world wide web. The amazing thing was that only the computer science students at other universities had access at the time. We had mainframes that allowed us to connect with CS students across the world; I chatted with students in Canada, Israel, Russia – it’s how I met my husband who was at Polytech. It brought us together through our curiosity about technology. It was a way to get perspective from different tech students. Later on, more students from other disciplines got on, but for a while it was just us tech students.”
After she graduated, Helen started out as a software engineer and grew her career from there. She learned that progress was good and that taking opportunities was a way to move on to bigger and better things. “But don’t move up so quickly that you have to play catch up for the rest of your career,” she warns. Even in her senior position now, Helen is an advocate of gaining and maintaining technical knowledge. It isn’t fun moving into a new position where you feel lacking in the knowledge department – in the long run, progressing too soon can hold you back.
One should never shy away from progress, on the other hand. Helen’s list of recommendations for corporate career growth is short and simple:
Become a domain expert
Align yourself to your manager’s success
If you see an opportunity, raise your hand
If you’re tapped on the shoulder, go for it
… but resist the temptation to move up too quickly before building your domain expertise
But what if opportunities don’t seem to come your way? Women in particular can find it difficult to say yes to progress, even when offered to them – and when it’s not? Many struggle to start conversations and end up waiting for a promotion that either won’t come or comes much later than it should, whereas if they had asked for it they could have received it sooner.
“Sometimes women rely on their managers to appreciate them,” Helen says, echoing a sentiment expressed by another of our alumna, Kim Perdikou.
Kim, who graduated in 1993, said in a previous interview: “I had this very wrong belief that if you worked really hard your boss would recognize it and you’d eventually get a job doing what you really should be doing. That is utter rubbish.”
Interestingly, another Seidenberg friend who recently spoke at our LST Honoree Speaker Series (which Helen introduced), Judy Spitz, told a story about advancement as a woman: “Once, early in my career, I got called into the senior executive’s office and he said ‘I want to give you this job’. I said to him ‘I’m not sure that I’m qualified for that job’. He looked at me like I had three heads. I’m not sure he’d ever had anyone in that office he’d offered a promotion to who said no, thanks.”
Imposter syndrome and plain societal conditioning are big problems for many women in technology – and in other fields. As someone with experience having these conversations and self-advocating, Helen has some advice.
“Bring your data with you,” she says. Your manager can’t deny your good work if you bring along proof. “Sometimes, you need to put your foot forward, show your data, and negotiate.”
Negotiating doesn’t have to be confrontational, either. “You don’t want to go too aggressive; it can affect your self-worth. When I came to Google, I took a leap of faith – I did not negotiate aggressively, because I looked at this opportunity as a longer term career path rather than just the next job.”
The notion of women in technology being a movement and of being a woman in technology herself took a hold on Helen. It was also what spurred her interest in board memberships. When I asked her why she joined the Seidenberg advisory board, she replied that she’d always been curious about it.
“I attended a women’s leadership panel where they stressed the importance of being on boards. It’s important to establish yourself as a thought leader – that helps with a broader perspective and gets you recognized within your industry. Women on boards is kind of the same thing as women CEOs and other high positions – there just needs to be more of it!”
Being on the board means bringing unique ideas with her to the Seidenberg School. “I started teaching through my son’s school Girls Who Code program, and started thinking about when I first came to New York, wanting to be an artist. I want to create a web design & developmente program at Pace. There is a benefit to combining the arts and sciences school and the computer science school. There are coding boot camps for Web Design and Development, but they fall short in giving CS fundamentals, impacting the quality of front end engineers on the market. Pace is uniquely positioned to do it, with the perfect combination of art and computing.”
Working with Girls Who Code (GWC), a national not-for-profit organization that aims to close the gender gap in technology, has created a reciprocal relationship for Helen. She started working with GWC around the same time she started at Google – late summer, 2016. “That’s usually how it is for me: when you start something new, you try to put yourself on a path that’s going to change your life to some extent.”
Helen teaches web design and development, which was what inspired her thought process about potentially combining art and computing in a program at Pace. In fact, her participation with GWC, Seidenberg, and her work at Google are mutually beneficial: “The logical connection between Google, GWC, and Seidenberg, is that learning one helps the other. I had to re-learn some HTML and CSS for GWC, then one of the first things I had to do at Google was update a roadmap page on our website using those same skills.”
“Similarly, I bring suitable Google concepts, like material design and design sprints, to GWC and other programs. What I learn here, I apply in class, and what I learn in class I can sometimes apply at Google as well!”
Despite having been with Google for less than a year, Helen has, as she put it, “drank the Kool-Aid.” The company’s focus on community meant a focus on integration at the beginning. “I learned that newcomers to Google get to wear a stylish hat complete with a propeller on top and are referred to as “Nooglers” for the first six months.”
Working at the coveted Google company means Helen knows a thing or two about career paths. So what’s her best advice for tech students? And what about getting beyond the infamous Google interview?
“You need to build your domain expertise. In technology, that expertise manifests itself in two areas. One, which is the most important in interviews, is hardcore tech skills. You need to know your algorithms, etc, and it helps you do well in interviews. The second one is, I meet a lot of students who want to be managers. They should be more thoughtful about their longer-term career plans. You can’t manage until you understand your domain well. A lot of women are drawn to technical leadership – you need to be a domain expert first, which could take 4+ years of coding before you can move on.”
“Camille Fournier [a technical thought leader and former chief technology officer of Rent the Runway], said that she worked as a software engineer for 10 years and achieved mastery; at that point, she could apply herself to any technology, even if she was out of practice.
“At Google, you are constantly pushed in technical directions. Even as a leader, I’m expected to code – and I welcome that extra reinforcement. On the other hand, where I achieved mastery is in systems design and scalability, and understanding how to process data and work with data at scale. That’s what Google is all about and that’s what you learn, and it’s also important in the fintech sector. You want to keep your systems working under different conditions. Those are the skills that help you get a job in any industry. No matter what systems you work on, they need to scale and they need to be reliable.
“A lot of my interview at Google had to do with understanding of scaling large and complex systems. Google has billions of users; how do you keep that data usable? When you click on an email, how do you get it to load instantly instead of in 10 minutes? I may not achieve mastery on the pure coding front, but I certainly achieved it on systems design/scalability front.”
Having domain expertise is something that can only be achieved after years of practice. Anyone can get into casual coding, but it’s the hours you put in that really count. Helen is clearly someone who has put the hours in. “I try to tie in everything extracurricular that I do directly to work or to family,” she says. “I do hackathons with my son, coding camps with my daughter.”
And all of that is against the backdrop of NYC. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I like having lots of options to explore with my kids. When the kids were little, I took them to celebrate every international holiday – Chinatown for Chinese New Year, Little India for Independence Day, so we could celebrate international culture.”
Diversity is one of the things that makes New York great. It’s a city of hard workers, a landscape that is reflected within the walls of the Seidenberg School as students rush from class to internship to workshop to co-op job to networking event.
Recently, the New York Times ranked Pace University #2 nationwide for the upward mobility of our students. Students who come through our doors from less privileged backgrounds end up graduating and going on to great things. When Helen moved here in 1993 with $3000 to her name and the determination to make a good life for herself and family, she exemplified that quintessentially New York attitude – and ours.
Kim Perdikou graduated from Pace with an MS in Information Systems in 1993. She has held positions with companies like Dun & Bradstreet, Reader’s Digest and was the CIO then Executive Vice President at Juniper Networks. She has been the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of iPhotonix, an Optical and SDN company, since April 2015. She is also an Investor and Chairwoman of the Board of REBBL, an herbal beverage company. Kim additionally serves as a Board Director of CyberArk, a technology cyber security company. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for Trunomi, a financial technology company.
She’s also an incredible human rights advocate. As an incredibly accomplished alumna, Kim has had a lot of experience which helped her uncover one of her strongest passions: fighting the global problem of human trafficking. We spoke with Kim about her experiences and unique perspective.
What was your journey to your current position as Chairwoman of the Board of Directors at iPhotonix like?
I had been invited to dinner with a friend in Bermuda and met a young couple who were on holiday. The guy was in a startup and was friends with the CEO of iPhotonix. When the CEO was looking for a new board member, he reached out to me. I joined the board and, when the chairman left (his company was acquired and there was a conflict of interest), the shareholders asked me to be chairwoman. I did say no for about an hour and then they congratulated me! Case closed.
Did you come across unique challenges as a woman in technology?
When I was 5 my mother saw a program on TV about mathematical children who are different and she tried to contain me in that ‘different’ box because I was very into math. What happened was I thought if I am different I am going to be different on my terms!
So I was. One time when my father sold a car at work and came home, he brought a new record player – the first we ever had. My brother and sister sat and watched the record go round and sang to the songs and I sat at the other end of the table, aged 5, counting the money. I did the taxes for my dad’s business when I was 12.
When I discovered there was a glass ceiling, I realized “I’m never going to be a director.” My husband didn’t understand because he’d started his own businesses and done everything he’d wanted. “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s all in your head,” he told me, and even though it isn’t all in your head, he was right: my own behavior was stopping some of my progress, so I had to change my behavior.
I had this very wrong belief that if you worked really hard your boss would recognize it and you’d eventually get a job doing what you really should be doing. That is utter rubbish. You need to know where you want to go, picture it in your head, and talk to people to find out how to get there. Men know exactly where they want to be. Part of the behavior is our own behavior – if you go along with what’s expected of you, you won’t ever break free of those expectations.
I started taking steps to change my behavior. Here’s an example: men talk to each other about sports, so I learned to play golf so I could have a conversation with them. I ended up loving golf so much I didn’t allow business on the golf course! And the men enjoyed playing with me so much it normalized our relationships. That allowed me to be seen as a person, rather than a woman who they couldn’t relate to.
How else did you change your behavior?
I would do things to be helpful that weren’t necessarily part of my job, which would benefit others but not me. For example, a software group was going to be moved to another executive but they didn’t want to move it yet because it was so ‘delicate’. Even though it wasn’t my job, I ended up running it, putting out fires every day, but the other executive was the one getting paid and promoted.
One night, I was complaining about it to my friend and I’ll never forget what she said to me. She told me I was the problem. Because I was the one doing it. I had not set any boundaries. I was the one who was doing work outside my job that someone else was getting rewarded for. I wasn’t very happy to hear it, but she was right. Once I got past how I felt about her ‘advice’, I went into work and asked for a conversation where I told them that, with all the extra work, I’m not focused on the things I should be, and so I’d like to move the software group – and the date I’m going to do it is April X. They said “we can’t do that to this guy!” and I replied “they are moving the only decision to be made is who they will report to.”
Breaking the mold is key
Everybody who is not happy in their careers blames “my boss, my this, my that,” but it’s up to them to change their situations.
You will not change what other people do, but you can change how you behave, how you react, and where you want to go.
If you want a job, you have to ask for it. Don’t sit back and wait for someone to recognize your talents. Ask for promotions in a non-confrontational way without time pressure. And don’t start doing the job until it’s actually yours.
When going for a promotion or new job, I learned that talented executives would outline a plan of what they were going to do and wouldn’t actually do it until they had the job and budget to accomplish it. Once I started to learn how people did things at the executive level I became a lot more prepared. I would have a list of things I would do and things I would not do. And I would stick with it.
Tell us about your work with REBBL and Slavery is Over? Why is it important to you?
Juniper Foundation built a relationship with Not for Sale (NFS), which is an innovative not-for-profit to re-abolish slavery. When I learned that there are more slaves in the world today than when slavery was first abolished I knew something different had to be done to solve it.
My friend Dave Batstone, Founder of NFS, had the idea of creating companies in the most economically challenged areas, where people who are the most vulnerable to slavery live, in order to address the supply chain and change the economics of the area.
There are so many vulnerable people in the world. They are vulnerable because they are so poor: there are no jobs, no money to be made, so when somebody shows up in their village promising them jobs and money overseas they jump at the chance.
They are told they will be given passports and work visas and that they can work in the USA or UK and make enough to send back home to support their families. Of course they jump at that. But when they arrive in a foreign country with only the person who brought them, they are threatened and told they have to pay everything back at an extortionate price. They are also told they are in the new country illegally, so they are forced into prostitution and other slavery and have to work 24/7 to pay off debts that will never get paid.
Dave’s idea was to disrupt the whole supply chain so that people never got into the position where they were so desperate that they would agree to leave their villages, with these people, in the first place. So several companies that were mainly dependent on labor in those villages were created. We wanted to create jobs with dignity, so looked for reasons and valuable commodities a company could use from the area to create business in specific locations.
Dave had a Montara Circle meeting of business, sports and government people to brainstorm ideas in 24 hours. They looked at the Peruvian Amazon where there are villages where whole families are indentured to collecting minerals used in the U.S. car industry. So we looked for something indigenous to the area that was also unique to the area and could be used for business. We discovered an herb called cat’s claw. We ended up creating REBBL, a beverage company that creates drinks from cat’s claw and other indigenous ingredients. The product is very good – and that is important for financially successful businesses. But the true difference is the impact of a clean dignified supply chain created which can give back to fund the next set of businesses. 2.5% of REBBL’s revenue is donated to creating new businesses, so the whole network feeds itself.
You can change the world. The way to do it in any sustainable fashion is the same as anywhere else: through economics.